started by reviewing a working definition of public policy. We
find it beneficial to distinguish between public-policy
design and public-policy action.
* Design--We see public-policy design as a proposal
for the steps that should be taken, for a given period of time,
based on a given set of circumstances, to influence future
decisions and actions.
* Action--We see public-policy action as the actual
steps taken to make changes in current policy. for a given
period of time, based on a given set of circumstances.
Our current activity is working more
on the design side, as we review the development of actionable
public-policy proposals in years past, today and in the future.
Our work is based on the premise that strong, well-considered,
actionable proposals will help yield good public-policy action.
Our current schedule--We reviewed
the status of our current effort to produce a report by December
1, 2016, on the public-policy proposal process in Minnesota. We
discussed the following tentative schedule:
By early October--Prepare a
preliminary draft that can be circulated among our 5,500 email
participants, for their comment and suggestions.
During October--Review comments and
suggestions and revise the preliminary draft accordingly.
Late October--Prepare a revised draft,
make changes and gain approval from Civic Caucus interview
Mid-November--Circulate the draft as
approved by interview group among email participants, inviting
signatures of support.
Early December--Distribute report
publicly with signatures of support.
Recommendations for laying out our
objectives--A member offered the following list of
objectives for a Civic Caucus report on the public policy
* To define and clarify the role of public policy in the
community sector in Minnesota.
* To describe the key elements and principles of the "Minnesota
Process" of public policy over the past 50 years.
* To highlight characteristics of the current public-policy
environment and organizations, key issues, and concerns in
* To summarize specific strengths and challenges of public
policy in Minnesota today.
* To recommend specific actions to improve the public-policy
process in Minnesota to have an immediate impact on the quality
of life of all Minnesotans.
Try to find one major recommendation--We're
going to be trying to design one major, central, recommendation
which if implemented would cause other implementation to occur.
In effect, we'd like to create a "domino effect", in which the
central recommendation (first domino to fall) causes other
needed changes to occur as well. Such an effort seems most
appropriate in our topic under study, public policy, because
with so many individuals and groups involved, a list of
recommendations could become almost endless, with none shining
through as critical.
Several options for community sector
leadership under discussion--As we have begun discussing
recommendations we've concluded preliminarily that the need of
the state for more leadership in the community sector in public
policy could be the area where a central recommendation would
emerge, assuring that the state's most critical public-policy
issues are being carefully considered, with an emphasis on
devising innovative solutions.
* Establish a public-policy institute?--We
discussed whether something like the Washington State Institute
for Public Policy ought to be considered. However, that
organization is a governmental body, and we've been mainly
exploring what ought to take place outside the governmental
* Strengthen an existing organization(s)?--Another option
is further building on strengths of an existing nonprofit
organization(s) with a long history of involvement in public
* Start from scratch; something entirely new?--We've
learned so much about significant changes affecting public
policy in recent years, including changes in the media, the ways
people come together for discussions, the dramatic changes in
demographics, and other changes. Some persons are seriously
suggesting that the old ways of coming up with public- policy
proposals are unworkable today, and that perhaps something
radically new needs to be put on the table. Maybe we could
design something that would do a better job of being compatible
with today's realities.
* Look to foundations?--We discussed the potential of
turning to Minnesota's variety of foundations-community,
corporate and private-many or all of which possess desirable
characteristics of having always worked for the betterment of
the people of the state, are independent, general-purposed, not
aligned with any private or special interest, Minnesota-focused,
as well as having valuable financial resources.
We wondered whether leadership would
best come from one foundation on its own or from several working
together. We discussed the possible joint leadership of the
major community foundations. While foundations usually have
acted individually, not as a group, there are exceptions, such
as from 2009 to 2011 when six Minnesota foundations supported
two major reports on setting priorities for use of state
resources, The Bottom Line and Beyond the Bottom Line.
Also, a number of foundations are cooperating now as Northside
Funders Group, working together for the betterment of North
Points raised in discussion about
foundations-Traditionally, foundations seem to have played
more of a supportive role, helping others achieve their
objectives, as distinguished from being proactive. We asked
whether it's conceivable that foundations, whether individually
or together, would, for example, play the following key
public-policy roles: (1) assembling lists of the most urgent
public policy issues in the state; (2) laying out principles of
the best ways to conduct studies of those issues; and (3)
identifying a few issues that merit highest priority attention.
Some of us wondered whether
foundations might also (4) establish a pool of funding for study
of major issues.
If we are to recommend an enlarged
role for foundations, we need to understand better the roles
played by their boards of directors and their professional
staffs, a member suggested. One participant said foundations
could be triggers to action and we should educate the
foundations, because higher education institutions and media
won't do that.
Whatever happens in our report we
ought to make sure that the report gets circulated broadly to as
many foundations as possible. That means we ought to make sure
our regular email list is as comprehensive as possible relative
to foundations in the state, both boards of directors and top
staff, a member suggested.
Don't ignore the need for legislative
leadership--Let's not forget, a member cautioned, that those
well-meaning proposals requiring legislative action for
implementation are dependent upon a receptive, deliberative
legislative body. Several concerns over the performance of the
Minnesota Legislature have been raised, a member said, including
excessive reliance on omnibus bills, rush to judgment, lack of
hearings on major projects, and lack of transparency in
decision-making. At the very least, the member said, legislative
performance ought to be high on any priority list of projects
needing analysis and proposals for action. Another member noted
that public hearings seem to be dominated by advocacy groups on
behalf, or opposed to, a given proposal, as if the process
involves only special interests and lawmakers.
Some of us think that improvement in
the legislative process deserves higher priority over
improvement in the community sector. Have top leaders in the
Minnesota Legislature today received too much power and
influence relative to that of the other members? Is there too
little reliance on subcommittees, where rank and file of both
parties can work together on details?
Getting at root causes of a problem--A
critical public policy proposal objective ought to be getting at
root causes of problems, rather than addressing more obvious
symptoms, a participant said. Such work requires intensive
analysis about what really is behind a problem today and rarely
is that immediately obvious. But the participant is unsure how
committed foundations would be toward such an objective.
Foundations can be under a lot of pressure from advocates for
certain social concerns to provide funding for what the
advocates sense is the solution to the problem.
Take advantage of new learning
options, such as free online courses--A member suggested
that it would be interesting if a respected institution of
higher learning in Minnesota would put together a basic course
of civics and distribute that course through an
organization--such as Coursera--leading in online education
through what are known as MOOCs (massive open online courses).
Are people more impatient today and
less open to serious thinking in advance of action?--Some
participants wondered whether instant solutions are more popular
to discuss today than are the nuances of what really will
accomplish change in a way that is desirable. One person made
reference to laws on controlled substances that are now
beginning to be seen as having placed too much emphasis on
Need for courageous--if
imperfect--proposals--It's not essential that every proposal
have been thoroughly reviewed in advance of publication to
reveal its weaknesses as well as strengths, a member said. We
need more individuals and groups willing to step out and suggest
something different. Sometimes a less-than-perfect idea will
stimulate someone else to go one better.
Elements of good proposals in the past--We
ought not forget, a member said, that outstanding examples of
public-policy proposals in the past often have been the result
of a willingness to spend considerable time learning about the
problem or opportunity, understanding its complexity, reviewing
possible solutions and trying to come up with something really
Look maybe to an entirely new model--Rather
than limiting ourselves to recommendations addressed to existing
entities, such as foundations, one person suggested that perhaps
we ought to think about coming up with an entirely new model,
different from anything in existence today.
Is the lack of a sense of community
behind much of our difficulty?--Noting that big changes are
continuing to occur by age group and other demographics in the
state, a member wondered whether people have a reduced sense of
community today than in the past. If so, the member suggested,
perhaps finding a recommendation to re-invigorate a sense of
community would help the public-policy process more than
Importance of our report giving good
examples of critical issues needing attention--We agreed
that our report will need to be explicit about issues we
consider of high importance. A preliminary list that was
prepared for today's meeting resulted in considerable discussion
and controversy. One person advocated that several other issues
be on the list, including corrections, transportation, all
levels of post-high school education, strengthening family, and